Life has taught me many tough lessons: knowing my own worth, failing into success, letting go before a thing has gone too far… Many more lessons that I can waste time reciting (but maybe another day?).
The most profound lesson that I have learned to-date is asking for help.
I am not talking about simple help like asking my husband to cook or even telling a friend that I need groceries–though requesting help for those kinds of things have taught me that humility and honesty go hand in hand. I am speaking about seeking professional help when one’s mind has gone utterly awry. I am speaking on counseling.
Growing up in the south a Black Missionary Baptist, I was taught that Jesus saves and prayer changes things–or at least makes incredibly daunting and life altering situations manageable. It was a human failing in some ways to need to speak to a psychologist or partake of the conscious altering pharmaceuticals prescribed by psychiatrists to even you out. Doing anything more than asking a trusted Pastor for prayer was stepping over an invisible line drawn in the sand between sanity and the aunts and cousins and great grandparents hidden in back rooms or spoken about in embarrassed whispers. Seeking help from doctors that went beyond physical ailments (those that constrained your ability to be productive) meant that you had walked boldly across the divide squarely into crazy, trampling your faith in God’s miracle-working power from here to there.
After stumbling through life battling inner demons with only the advice to “pray about it”, I bit the bullet in college and saw my first mental healthcare professional. I could only go 6 times a year at no cost (a condition of having student health insurance coverage), but I knew I needed more than a pat on the head and a laying on of hands. I was depressed–and I was pretty sure that I had been on and off for years.
Since that time, I have taken advantage of private counseling at least two more times, both for extended periods of time that helped drag me back from the edge of utter the despair and apathy I experienced when in a depressive state of mind. I know my bouts with depression do not compare to those with chronic depression, but I can say with absolute certainty that I would still be depressed (and possibly dying) had I not sought out someone to talk to.
I share this not to talk about being an “overcomer” (though I am) or to talk about why counseling worked for me (and it did). I share because I want some woman, some young girl out there to know that you have nothing to be ashamed of if you need to do it, too. And I wanted to explain why I chose to speak to a total stranger (trained but strange) about what I was experiencing.
The counselor did not know me.
People who know you well have their own perceptions of why you are like you are because they have lived through experiences with you or have that perception created by what you say. They make ASSUMPTIONS. A counselor who has never met you will ask deeper questions because they share no history with you.
If you did not pick up on it from my intro, allow me to clarify: being a Christian is supposed to come without condemnation (it says so here) but humans will be human and judge you. A counselor is trained to NOT DO THIS. They accept what you say without judging you, giving you an opportunity to air out your feelings and problems without making you feel like the worst person on earth because of what you’re saying.
Nobody else could help me.
I KNOW that God has the ability to make me whole–and I also believe that He has gifted people in this world to help me do that. Relying on just the people in your life should not be your only option. God can and has healed people quickly; sometimes healing requires a process that only a trained professional can walk you through. If I can go to a doctor for help with physical healing, then using a doctor for mental healing should be an option as well.
Like I said, I do not suffer from any real mental health problems but I know what it is like to lose my grip on reality in a way that stalled me out. More than debilitating than the depression, I struggled with the stigma of needing more help than religious leaders could give–especially those who had not received formal training. But once I stepped out of that shadow, I realized that God is not constrained to just one way of doing things. Those counselors and psychologists gave me the tools I needed to live successfully.
If you are concerned about finding a counselor that matches your system of belief, don’t trip! You can use online tools that allow you to specify what you are looking for. Every single one of the counselors I saw were older ethnic practicing Christian women–because I am a younger black practicing Christian woman and I did not need some man telling me that nothing was wrong with me or some Buddhist telling me to meditate (no offense to men or Buddhist). I got the advice and tools I needed from the perspective that matched ME.
If you are concerned about money? SLIDING SCALE. My first few times in counseling, I was a poor college student with limited or no insurance. But the sliding scale ministry was there to help lift the burden. I only paid a fraction of the usual session costs. As an employed person, my insurance covers the cost with a small copay, and quite frankly school districts seems to understand the need for extra support in that area of health (dealing with y’all kids can be depressing!).
If you are worried about people finding out, don’t tell anybody. You have a right to do what you need to do to be better; you also have the right to privacy. Find someone who is not in your neighborhood–like literally drive over to another town. But don’t not go because someone might say something to you. I mean, if nobody has ever supported you in this, allow me: IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOU NEED TO SPEAK WITH A COUNSELOR, GOOOO! There is nothing wrong with you BECAUSE you need to talk to someone. You have a need and a trained professional can help you with that. I support your decision.
God bless! If you need help, go get it. You don’t have to be a superwoman or super Christian bearing these burdens alone. God has provided help to you in many forms. You choose what works for you and don’t be ashamed about it.